*This post was adapted from the book, The Type A’s Guide to Mindfulness: Meditation for Busy Minds and Busy People. Available in paperback or Kindle edition on Amazon.
The first thing most people think of when they hear about mindfulness is seated meditation—which is by far the most discussed and studied tool for mindfulness. But the point of seated meditation isn’t just to spend 5, 15, or 30 minutes of your day settling down and practicing mindfulness. The point of formal practice is to be able to bring those feelings with you as you move through your days, your relationships, your job and your community.
There are many different meditation styles and techniques, from mantra to mindfulness to sensory … and the list goes on. One of the most frequently asked questions I get is about the difference between the many styles, techniques, and programs—so I put together this overview of some popular types of seated meditation.
This is by no means meant to be a comprehensive guide to the many different forms, subdivisions, lineages, and meditations that are out there, just an overview of some of the most popular. Some of the styles I’ll discuss are more traditional, others are Western styles or meditation programs that were inspired from the more traditional teachings, some overlap, and all are beneficial.
Remember—there is no best form of meditation—the best style is the one you will actually practice with consistency. So try a few out and see what feels best for you.
Mindfulness meditation is the umbrella term for the category of techniques used to create awareness and insight by practicing focused attention, observing, and accepting all that arises without judgment. Although the origins of mindfulness meditation come from Buddhist teachings—predominantly Vipassana meditation, but also incorporates philosophies and practices from other Buddhist traditions—the style and way it’s taught is nonsectarian and appeals to people from many different religions and cultures. Its simple nature and open philosophy has made it the most popular meditation technique in the West.
- Who should try mindfulness meditation? It’s a great practice for anyone getting started in meditation or wanting to dive deeper into their practice; Especially suitable for beginners who don’t have access to a teacher, as the instructions are simple and there are many free and accessible resources and guided meditations on the Internet.
- Well-known mindfulness teachers: Jon-Kabat Zinn, Tara Brach, Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldestein, Jack Kornfield, Pema Chodron
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR, is an eight-week program that integrates mindfulness meditation and yoga with Western medicine and science. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the program in 1979, drawing from many years as a student of Buddhism and yoga. He integrated these teachings with his background in science and designed a meditation program (although he doesn’t call it meditation) that supports Western medicine to help people manage their stress, anxiety, illnesses, and chronic pain. He made the program extremely accessible and attractive to all types of people, and helped the general public understand that you don’t need to be a Buddhist to practice meditation. You can find MBSR courses offered at medical centers, universities, hospitals, and clinics around the world.
- Who should try MBSR? Anyone suffering from chronic pain, illness or anxiety; Anyone curious about meditation but skeptical about spirituality; People who like evidence and data to support activity; Rookie meditators who want a supportive community to start their practice
- Creator: Jon-Kabat Zinn
Primordial Sound Meditation
Primordial Sound Meditation, or PSM for short, is a mantra-based meditation technique rooted in the Vedic tradition of India. Deepak Chopra and David Simon revived this ancient practice at the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, and created a mantra-based meditation program anyone can practice. In PSM, each individual is given a mantra based on the vibration the universe was creating at the time and location of their birth. The mantra is used as a tool to take your mind to a quieter place. During meditation, you silently repeat the mantra, which creates a vibration that helps you slip into a place below the noisy chatter of the mind, and into stillness and pure awareness.
- Who should try PSM? Spiritually-minded individuals; People looking for structure in their meditation practice; Those new to meditation and serious about incorporating it into their lives
- Creator: Deepak Chopra
Vipassana is often known as insight meditation, translated to mean, “to see things as they really are.” Also a traditional Buddhist meditation practice, Vipassana emphasizes awareness of the breath, tuning into the air passing in and out through the nose. Vipassana also teaches you to label thoughts and experiences as they arise, taking mental notes as you identify objects that grab your attention. Each time you identify a label in your mind, you are then encouraged to bring your awareness back to your primary object, being the breath. There are several different types of Vipassana meditation that have evolved from the traditional style over the years.
- Who should try Vipassana? Excellent for beginners; People looking to practice meditation in an entirely secular context or combined with another religion or belief system; Those interested in trying a silent retreat
- Well-known Vipassana teachers: Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldestein, Jack Kornfield, Michael Stone
*Vipassana is also known for it’s silent retreats, offered around the world as a way to dive deeper into meditation practice and the inner world.
Zen Meditation (Zazen)
Zazen means “seated meditation” in Japanese. Most people know the meditation practice as simply Zen meditation, a type of Buddhist meditation where you focus your awareness on your breath and observe thoughts and experiences as they pass through the mind and environment, letting them float by. This may sound remarkably similar to Vipassana meditation, and that’s because it is similar. Although there are some differences, most would seem far more apparent to experienced meditators than those just starting out. One main practical difference is that in Zen meditation, the emphasis of the breath is at the belly, instead of the nose (as in Vipassana). Another big difference is that posture is much stricter in Zen meditation than in Vipassana, with stringent attention on a straight spine, tucked chin, and hands placed in a special position over the belly. In Zen, eyes are always instructed to be open, with a downcast gaze, and in Vipassana, there are not strict rules for the eye gaze, and beginners are encouraged to keep them closed.
- Who should try Zen? Those who already have some experience with meditation; Those who can handle rigid rules for practice and don’t mind little instruction; Those who like the idea of practicing with a teacher
- Well-known Zen teachers: Thich Nhat Hanh, Joan Halifax Roshi, Adyashanti
Transcendental Meditation, or TM, is another mantra-based meditation technique. As with PSM, its origin is from Ancient India and each person is given a personal mantra used for its vibrational qualities to help settle the mind. Although the purpose of the meditation and the technique itself is similar to PSM, there are quite a few differences, including the mantras themselves and how they are selected, the instruction of meditation, and the recommended length of time to meditate.
- Who should try Transcendental Meditation? People looking for structure in their meditation practice; Those new to meditation and serious about incorporating it into life; Those willing to spend money on their mantra
- Creator: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Loving-kindness meditation is also known as Metta meditation, meaning unconditional kindness and friendliness. This meditation style also originates from Buddhist teachings, mainly Tibetan Buddhism. In the growing field of compassion research, the loving-kindness meditation has been proven to be particularly helpful with boosting empathy, positivity, acceptance, and kindness toward oneself and others.
The traditional loving-kindness meditation always starts with sending loving-kindness to oneself, then continues to send it in this order: to a friend or loved one, to someone who is neutral in your life, to a difficult person, and then out to the universe.
- Who should try Loving-Kindness meditation? Anyone with low self-esteem, high levels of self-criticism, and a desire to grow more empathetic with others
- Well-known instructors who teach Loving-Kindness meditation: Sharon Saltzberg, Pema Chodron
In Kundalini meditation, the main idea is that through meditation, you awaken your untapped Kundalini energy, located at the base of the spine. When this energy is released, it travels up the spine and leads to an experience commonly known as Kunadalini awakening, which ultimately leads to enlightenment. Kundalini meditations can include breathing techniques, mantras, mudras (hand placements), and chants to tap into the power of the unconscious mind and bring it forward to energize and awaken the conscious mind.
- Who should try Kundalini meditation? Open-minded individuals; those looking to dive deeper into their spirituality
- Well-known Kundalini teachers: Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa; Harijiwan
Yoga Nidra is the Sanskrit phrase for yogic sleep. As the name suggests, it’s a restful, deeply relaxing practice, and it originated from the Tantra tradition in yoga. Yoga Nidra is done lying down or in a reclined, comfortable posture, and although this may look like a nap, you are fully conscious during the practice. If you’re in a class, teachers will usually recommend props, like blankets and bolsters, so you can find as much comfort and ease in the body as possible.
The meditation itself involves a step-by-step process of visualization and guided instructions that lead you into a deep state of conscious relaxation.
- Who should try Yoga Nidra? Anyone, Yoga Nidra is great for releasing stress … and who doesn’t experience stress? It’s especially helpful for those who are stressed out but have trouble focusing on just one thing at a time (like mantra or breath-awareness meditations)
- Well-known yogis who teach Yoga Nidra: Many teachers who teach asana also offer Yoga Nidra, including Dharma Mittra and Rod Stryker
A chakra is an energetic center in the body, and we have seven of them, each located in a different area of the body and each associated with a different color, sound, and energetic purpose. From the practice of yoga, chakra meditations can be very powerful, especially when focusing on and connecting with one element in the physical or emotional body at a time. Many chakra meditations use sound, specific placement of hands, and visualization techniques to connect with the chakras and bring healing energy to an issue or emotion that needs attention.
- Who should try chakra meditations? Chakra meditations are a great compliment to those already practicing yoga; Those looking to heal something in their physical or energetic bodies; Spiritually-minded individuals
Tonglen meditation is a Tibetan Buddhist meditation that is meant to connect you with suffering in an effort to help you overcome it. In the West, we are often taught to avoid suffering, sometimes through seeking pleasure, which is the exact opposite of how Tonglen teaches you to manage suffering and challenge. In these meditations, you develop an attitude of openness toward suffering, let go of negativity, practice giving and receiving, and cultivate compassion and empathy through the breath, visualization, and intention—for ourselves and others. The practice can be done in any comfortable position, whether seated or reclined.
- Who should try Tonglen meditation? Anyone dealing with difficult people, stress and/or negativity; Those struggling with self-criticism and self-doubt; Those who want to cultivate compassion and kindness toward themselves and others; Those seeking spiritual growth
- Well-known leaders who teach Tonglen meditation: Pema Chodron, His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Now that you have a breakdown of the various types of meditation, you probably realize that Vipassana isn’t for everyone, Transcendental Meditation won’t feel right for everyone, and Zen won’t work for everyone either. But I think there is a style of meditation out there that will work for every personality … so go ahead and explore and find out what works for you.